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Google’s Night Sight mode for Pixel phones in pictures

Taking photos in a dark environment has always been a weak spot of most smartphone cameras. That is, until Night Sight was released.
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1 of 13 Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

A new camera mode appears!

Google first announced Night Sight, a new camera mode for its Pixel lineup of phones. The new mode is designed to work in low light conditions. As with most features Google implements into its Camera app, Night Sight relies on AI to gather as much information about the scene as possible and bring out more light and details.

Pixel owners will need to update the Google Camera app in the Play Store, after which you will find Night Sight under the More button. Or, as you can see in the screenshot above, you will see a prompt when the camera detects a scene where Night Sight can make all the difference.

Recently, I took the Pixel 3 XL out and captured some pictures at night to see what all the fuss was about. The following images are unedited, with the exception of cropping a few to make sure they displayed properly.

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2 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Neon Alley

This is Neon Alley. It's full of old neon signs abandoned by businesses. In some cases, the business is no longer around, in other cases they've switch to more modern signage.

But I digress. I picked Neon Alley to test out the Pixel 3 XL camera's new Night Sight mode to see how it did in harsh lighting conditions.

This photo was taken without Night Sight enabled, and doesn't look that bad. Until, well, go to the next slide.

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3 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With Night Sight enabled

Until you compare it to the Night Sight version.

Look at the neon pencil in the upper left-hand corner. You can actually read it in the photo taken with Night Sight enabled.

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4 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Graffiti trash dumpster

This isn't a terrible photo. The colors are a little off, and if you look at the door or the ground just before the dumpster, you can't see a whole lot of detail.

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5 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With Night Sight enabled

With Night Sight enabled, the colors are more accurate, the photo is brighter, and there's a lot more detail in the pavement and around the door.

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6 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Just a couple of kids

This is exactly what I would expect a photo taken with any current smartphone to look like in this situation. The foreground is lit up, but muddied a bit by the different colors of light and the bright background.

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7 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With Night Sight enabled

But this is what Night Sight can do. Not only are the signs in the background still bright, but the foreground, and more importantly, the people, are now well lit and visible.

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8 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Walter’s Brewing delivery wagon

An old wagon that was used to move Walter's Original pilsner around town pre-prohibition.

Notice how the red is a dark, and the white boards aren't all that bright.

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9 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With Night Sight enabled

It's a subtle difference, but overall this same photo with Night Sight is brighter and features more realistic colors.

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10 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

More Neon Alley

Night Sight is designed to work best in dimly lit environments. An alley full of neon signs isn't exactly that, but it is dark in spots.

When comparing this non-Night Sight photo with the next sample, pay attention to the detail in the lights, and most impressive to me, the ground.

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11 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With Night Sight enabled

The water that's pooled up on the ground is more defined, which isn't all that surprising since Night Sight has shown time and time again it can bring out details that otherwise wouldn't be captured in a normal shooting mode.

pixel-3-xl-pumpkin-wo-night-sight.jpg
12 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

A Thanksgiving mural

This was taken in probably the worst lighting out of this bunch. There was a single streetlight down the block, and small light in the parking lot.

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13 of 13 Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With Night Sight enabled

But that small amount of light was enough for Night Sight to capture and bring out the colors and detail of the mural.

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